Eckburg: Boulder’s party attendees need to check their privilege

Bella Eckburg

A student demonstrator, who wished to remain anonymous, holds up the definition of privilege. (Photo courtesy of Julia Rentsch)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

On March 10, the Boulder Police Department made its first arrest in its investigation of the pandemic party that occurred in Boulder, Colorado, on Saturday, March 6.

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Up to 800 people gathered to party. Although it could be argued that this reckless behavior is a result of pandemic-induced emotional fatigue, I would say it was more of a homemade Project X nightmare indicative of something even bigger than the pandemic.

The issue here lies in the diffusion of responsibility and an extreme display of acute selfishness, along with egregious displays of privilege — the consequences of the partygoers’ actions are more inconvenient than actually detrimental or negative.

College students are all dealing with the loss of their college experience in different ways, and it’s more than OK to be exhausted by the stress of life amid a pandemic. However, emotional fatigue is not an excuse for mindlessly endangering your entire community because the idea of drinking in a crowd sounds more fun than drinking at home.

Before continuing, it should be noted the University of Colorado Boulder is not the only university that has had a party turn into a riot; Colorado State University had a similar situation play out in 2013, which also resulted in the crowd being tear gassed. 

Although the situation is not representative of CU Boulder as a whole, there is certainly something to be said about the fact that almost 800 college-aged people thought it was a good idea to attend a party in the middle of a pandemic. 

According to ThoughtCo, “Diffusion of responsibility occurs when people feel less responsibility for taking action in a given situation because there are other people who could also be responsible for taking action.”

Mob mentality plays a large role in this diffusion, where individuals lose their sense of individual identity and self-awareness, opting to participate in negative or violent behavior because other people are also engaged in those behaviors.

Acting as a group can decrease the fear of being held responsible, and unfortunately, this was exactly what happened at CU Boulder. 

As the sun dipped low, the party quickly devolved into a violent outburst against the police, fire department and SWAT team tasked with breaking up the crowd. Party attendees pelted the police with bricks and rocks in an attempt to sustain the party unfolding on University Hill.

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Partygoers shot fireworks into the sky, and the sounds of police warnings echoed from the loudspeaker of a police car, and the blurry night became filled with violence and chaos.

CU Boulder released an email with the subject line “RUN HIDE FIGHT” before the police arrived at the scene, which received a lot of raised eyebrows from CU Boulder students not attending the party due to that phrase being previously defined as a reminder on how to defend oneself from an active harmer.

Discussions of white privilege moved to the forefront of the media over the summer, and the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically, forced thousands of Americans to examine their own privilege. 

66.3% of CU Boulder’s student population is white, and the relationship between white privilege and what occurred in Boulder on March 6 should be recognized for what it is. The party’s attendees likely did not start the night and enter the crowd with fears of police violence or being arrested.

These white students experienced the privilege of not having to think about what could happen to them at this party, and the consequences seem far from negative. There were 800 people attending, and although CU Boulder issued a statement condemning this behavior and threatening expulsion to anyone involved in violence against first responders, it’s very likely that a majority of these attendees will walk away unscathed. 

However, many students and community members who were not at the party are affected negatively by the choices made by these partygoers. The party definitely acted as a super-spreader event, and a surge in positive COVID-19 cases will impact at-risk individuals both on campus and in the community.

To those who attended the party on University Hill, I ask you, was the party worth risking the lives of community members and your fellow students? 

College students are navigating adult situations and experiences and doing so in the middle of a time unlike any other. The pandemic increases feelings of loneliness and grief, and it’s normal to feel stuck. 

If you are feeling this way, you should reach out to those around you. Self-isolating and social distancing takes a toll on mental health, but it’s what we need to do to return to normal. Yes, it sucks, but, as college students, we should be focusing on being there for one another during this time, despite the circumstances.

Bella Eckburg can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @yaycolor.